Losing weight can be hard work. People feel they have to count calories, endure hunger pangs and work up a sweat. It's no wonder so many give up and regain their hard-lost pounds. It doesn't have to be that way. The reason we are losing the battle of the bulge is that we have bought into some common myths about weight loss. Here, six of those myths and what to do instead...
Myth 1: The less you eat, the more weight you'll lose.
Our bodies are made up of hundreds of genes that protect us from starvation. That's why we end up gaining weight if we start out eating too few calories. You can starve yourself for only so long before your body engages a primitive response that compensates for starvation by making you overeat. In my experience, the average person who goes on a diet actually gains five pounds.
What to do: Never go on a diet. Instead, eat foods that turn on your metabolism. These are whole foods that come from nature, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lean animal protein. If you eat only these foods, you won't have trouble with your appetite-it will self-regulate, and the triggers that drive overeating will be under control.
Myth 2: It doesn't matter what kind of exercise you do, as long as you exercise.
It's true that any kind of exercise is better than no exercise, but interval training is the most effective for weight loss. Interval training consists of short bursts of intense activity followed by longer periods of lighter activity. This kind of training tunes up your metabolism so you burn more calories all day and while you sleep, not just when you are exercising.
What to do: Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of interval training two to three days a week. Exercise as vigorously as you can for 30 to 60 seconds, and then slow your pace for three minutes, repeating this pattern for about a half hour.
If you are over 30, have a physical before you start interval training. If you are out of shape, ease into a regular exercise routine first-you might start by walking for 30 minutes five times a week.
Myth 3: You can control your weight by counting calories.
Many people believe that all calories are the same when it comes to weight control—that if you substitute 100 calories' worth of, say, cookies for 100 calories of carrots, you'll come out even. But food isn't just about calories. Everything that you eat contains "instructions" for your DNA, your hormones and your metabolism. Different foods contain different information.
For instance, the sugar in soda enters your blood rapidly, increasing insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that promotes more fat storage around the middle and raises inflammation levels in the body, which in turn promotes more weight gain.
On the other hand, the same amount of sugar from kidney beans enters your blood slowly. Because the sugar is absorbed over time, your insulin levels remain stable and more of the calories are burned and fewer are stored.
What to do: Don't focus on the number of calories you are consuming. Losing weight is not about counting calories--it's about eating the right calories.
Myth 4: Eating fat makes you fat.
Dietary fat does not correlate with excess body fat. Any weight-loss resulting from a low-fat diet is usually modest and temporary. The amount of fat Americans eat has dropped from 42% to 34% of total calories on average, but we still are getting fatter. That's because all fats are not created equal. There are good fats, bad fats and ugly fats. Good fats actually can help you lose weight, but many of us have nearly eliminated them from our diet.
Two examples of good fats are omega-3s and monounsaturated fats. Omega-3s are found in fish, flaxseed and flax oil, and nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, avocados and nuts.
Bad fats include refined polyunsaturated vegetable oil-such as corn and safflower—and most saturated fat, found in meat and animal products, such as butter.
The ugly fats are trans fats, often found in snack foods and packaged baked goods. Trans fat comes from adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation.
What to do: Eat good fats. These improve your metabolism by activating genes that help you burn fats. Saturated and trans fats turn off fat-burning genes. The Inuit people of Greenland used to eat a diet that was very high in fat—primarily omega-3 and monounsaturated fat—and they were thin and healthy. Now they have shifted to a diet that is lower in fat and high in carbohydrates from junk food, and many are obese, with higher rates of heart disease and other illnesses.
Myth 5: Going low-carb will make you thin.
Carbohydrates are the single most important food you can eat for long-term health and weight loss. They are the source of most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber in our diet and all the phytonutrients, plant compounds that are key regulators of our health. Phytonutrients turn on the genes that help us burn fat and age slowly They contain disease-fighting nutrients. Some examples are the isoflavones in soy foods, polyphenols in cocoa and glucosinolates in broccoli.
However, just as there are different fats, there are different types of carbohydrates.
What to do: Eat complex carbohydrates—vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. These tend to have low glycemic loads, which means they are absorbed slowly and don't raise blood sugar quickly, so you feel full longer. Refined carbs, such as white flour, rice and pasta, along with sugary foods, make your blood sugar spike so that you feel hungry sooner.
Myth 6: It doesn't matter what time you eat.
Sumo wrestlers look the way they do because they fast during the day, then overeat at night and go to bed. Like Sumo wrestlers, we eat most of our calories late in the day. When you eat late, calories are stored instead of burned.
What to do: Don't eat within two to three hours of going to bed, because you need to give your body time to digest and burn off your food. Also, eat throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels stable. Breakfast is important. I can't tell you how many people I have helped to lose weight by having them eat breakfast. The National Weight Control Registry, which is tracking long-term weight-loss maintenance in more than 5,000 people, has found that 96% of those who have maintained weight loss for six years eat breakfast regularly.